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Heist (2015)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // December 29, 2015
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 29, 2015 | E-mail the Author
In the past few years, the direct-to-video business has been booming, with smaller studios raking in the dough cranking out thrillers shot in Bulgaria featuring former A-listers willing to devote a week to a quick shoot if the pay is right. Most of these movies, unsurprisingly, are forgettable, constructed out of generic plot points and recycled storylines from some sort of Mad Libs screenwriting template, but every once in awhile, there's one that cleanly and efficiently does exactly what most of the people who rent these kinds of films are hoping for: 90 or so minutes of unchallenging (but not unintelligent) entertainment with some familiar faces. Heist is one of these kinds of movies.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Vaughn, a dealer on an upscale riverboat casino called The Swan. He has a young daughter in the hospital who needs an expensive surgery in order to survive, and Vaughn can't even foot the bill for her treatments. Begging earns him a reprieve until Friday at 7pm -- before then, he'll have to come up with more than $300,000 to pay off his debts and cover the cost of the surgery, or his daughter loses her place in line for the treatment, and probably her life. Vaughn has a history with the casino's owner, Pope (Robert De Niro), but Pope can't bring himself to foot the bill from a guy he knows probably isn't good for it. Outraged, Vaughn ends up fired after a tussle with Pope's assistant Derrick (Morris Chestnut), forcing him to turn to a last-ditch option: help disgruntled bouncer Cox (Dave Bautista) and Cox's friend Julian (Stephen Cyrus Sepher) rob the casino.

Despite the film's title, the heist itself is not a big part of the movie's appeal. Editor Robert Dalva throws in a touch of flair by cross-cutting Vaughn explaining the plan with the heist actually happening, but there's so little to the break-in that it's hard to get too excited. Instead, the bulk of the movie is built around a Speed-like situation in which Vaughn, Cox, and Julian end up hijacking a city bus to escape, gaining a small handful of hostages and a number of cops on their tail, including Kris (Gina Carano), who is quick to realize that Vaughn and Cox couldn't be more different. As their situation escalates, Cox becomes angry, violent, power-hungry, and desperate, forcing Vaughn to improvise methods of calming him down. Director Scott Mann handles the bus material with reasonable deftness, including a decent action sequence that sees SWAT guys knocked onto the road off the roof of the bus.

Still, that's not what makes Heist stand out from the pack, it's the surprising focus on character. Morgan and De Niro both have a reasonable amount of meat to chew on here, their characters nicely complementing one another. Vaughn remains level-headed throughout an increasingly wild situation because his character is always thinking about his daughter, and although it would be hard to call Heist sentimental, this touch of humanity does come through in Morgan's performance. Similarly, Pope has his own daughter, an adult one named Sydney (Kate Bosworth) who hates him and his casino, which she knows involves itself in criminal activities. It is remarkably rare in movies like this to see a character with a real arc, especially a villain like Pope, and yet, with a minimal amount of backstory (thank goodness), Mann and writers Sepher and Max Adams craft a nice one for Pope that touches on his bleak outlook for the future, his history with Vaughn, and his appraisal of Derrick.

In the big picture, Heist is nothing special. Like movies of a similar ilk, it's built out of familiar parts of better movies (not even better movies that are good, per se, but merely better B-thrillers), the limitations of its schedule and budget frequently show, and it proves, once again, that Gina Carano is not a very good actor (sorry, Gina). Yet, the little bit of extra effort to give the script a polish and craft some interesting dynamics between the protagonist and antagonist pay off in terms of making Heist a pleasant sit. Compared to its competition, it's a clear winner: 90 minutes of decent, affordable entertainment.

The Blu-ray
Lionsgate brings Heist to Blu-ray with its original poster art intact -- the old line-of-famous-faces routine, above an image of some sort of action happening in the bottom corner (in this case, a flaming city bus). The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-ray case with a leaflet providing the UltraViolet HD digital copy, and there is a glossy slipcover featuring almost identical artwork (save for the billing block on the back cover), with embossing for the title on the front.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, the early takeaway from the transfer is that it is very dark. In Robert De Niro's introductory scene, blue artifacts can be seen in the shadows, and for the next fifteen or so minutes, through the heist sequence and a bit beyond, the movie is bathed in inky blacks that appear to be crushing detail. It's fair to say that this might be intentional, but it doesn't look particularly attractive, coming off as a bald-faced attempt to push the look of the film a little to cover up the budget. Once the characters board the bus, the inkiness abruptly vanishes and is replaced by slightly pale shadows until daytime arrives and things balance themselves out. Lens flares and other visual flourishes are common but have an artificial appearance. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offering a basic but strong action-oriented mix with some nice bassy elements and decent surround activity, and the mix also does a surprisingly subtle job of placing the viewer into the claustrophobic environment of the bus. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
An audio commentary by director Scott Mann, co-writer Max Adams, and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan is included. The trio are light and jovial, chatting about the process of rewriting the script, landing the cast (Morgan got his part through De Niro's agent instead of his own), and working on an accelerated schedule with a limited budget. A surprisingly lively chat, although the surprising starkness with which the film's audio goes in and out gives the sensation -- perhaps artificially -- that a number of comments here and there have been muted.

A couple of video extras round out the disc, starting with a short selection of deleted scenes (4:08) -- a bit more of Vaughn's backstory, a bit more blood, nothing too special. "The Making of Heist" (15:11) is standard behind-the-scenes stuff, with film clips, B-roll, and interviews from the set. Feels noticeably canned compared to the loose commentary, and a significant amount of it is dedicated to explaining the plot. Of course, the first thing anyone will want to do if they choose to sit through this is to see the uncut versions of the same interviews, with Mann (7:29), Adams (6:11), Morgan (4:26), Kate Bosworth (4:43), Mark-Paul Gosselaar (3:35), Gina Carano (4:09), Morris Chestnut (2:34), and D.B. Sweeney (4:37). The most interesting thing about the full interviews is probably the cast referring to the movie by its original, less-generic title.

Trailers for Sicario, Wild Card, John Wick, Zero Tolerance, Extraction, and American Ultra play before the main menu and are accessible under special features via "Also from Lionsgate." An original trailer for Heist is also included.

Heist is better than 90% of the DTV thrillers I see as a DVD and Blu-ray critic, putting some well-utilized effort into the characters. Although the film is basically intended as a rental, I'll reward the extra investment on the filmmakers' behalf with a light recommendation.

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